Have You Mined All the Little Details in Each U.S. Census?

One of the first resources that family historians scope out is the United States census. What many researchers don’t realize is that they are under-utilizing the data that is found in each and every census numeration.

First, let’s take a look at exactly what is in each census, aside from the age categories in the censuses taken between 1790 and 1840.

1790Columns 4 & 5 are for “All other free persons” and “Slaves.” If you are tracing an ancestor who was enslaved or perhaps freed at some point and can trace your line back to the post Revolutionary War period, the census may be a boon for you.

Here is part of the census of Stoneham, Massachusetts:

Cato Freman – All Other Free Persons = 4

I would guess that Cato was a person of color, either black or Native American and “Freman” as his surname isn’t a coincidence.

On the same page:

Joseph Bryant & John Buckman

Joseph Bryant has one other free person living in his home who is not white. John Buckman has two non-white free persons.

Town records might shed more light on Cato Freman and the non-white inhabitants in the Bryant and Buckman households.

1800 -The 1800 census had twelve enumeration categories. The last two categories again were for free persons (except Indians not taxed) and slaves.

Again, in Stoneham, Massachusetts, we find a Joseph Bryant, this time Joseph Bryant Jun.

Joseph Bryant Jun.

This Joseph Bryant has one non-white free person who is not an un-taxed Indian living in his household.

1820 – Did you realize that this census has 33 categories of information? Beginning with column 13, there is all kinds of data collected that year:

  • # of foreigners not naturalized
  • # of persons engaged in agriculture
  • # of persons engaged in commerce
  • # of persons engaged in manufacture
  • # of male slaves under 14
  • # of male slaves age 14-26
  • # of male slaves age 26-45
  • # of male slaves age 45 and up
  • # of female slaves under 14
  • # of female slaves age 14-26
  • # of female slaves age 26-45
  • # of female slaves age 45 and up
  • # of free male colored persons under 14
  • # of free male colored persons age 14-26
  • # of free male colored persons age 26-45
  • # of free male colored persons age 45 and up
  • # of free female colored persons under 14
  • # of free female colored persons age 14-26
  • # of free female colored persons age 26-45
  • # of free female colored persons age 45 and up
  • # of all other persons except Indians not taxed

Here is a page from Calais, Maine, which sits right on the border with New Brunswick, Canada and the West Isles, also part of Canada:

Persons Not Naturalized

There are a lot of persons not naturalized living here. When comparing the number of people not naturalized – usually the older household members if some are, but some aren’t – you will be able to narrow down a time frame for when the family arrived in Maine.

NOTE: Finding this information on some pages of the 1820 census can be a challenge because census takers created their own pages without the enumeration categories at the top and didn’t always follow the same order as those categories when asking their questions.

1830 – This census asked most of the same questions as the 1820 census but also had categories for deaf, dumb, and blind, segregated by white and colored. Here is a somewhat unusual entry in Cumberland County, Virginia for one Michael Welch:

Michael Welch is the head of household consisting of only himself; he is aged 40-50. If I had only looked at this page, I might have assumed that he had been widowed and maybe his children had married and left home. However, the following page has the other half of the 1830 questions on it. Notice that there is 1 ticked five boxes in from the right. That denotes an alien not naturalized.

Now I am wondering if he is either a recent arrival or if he came as an indentured servant and recently finished his contract?

There is an entry for Samuel Q. Anderson, 20 to 30 years old, again from Cumberland County. Judging by his young age and the fact that there is a 70-80 year old woman also in the home, this is likely a widowed mother with a few children still at home.

The second page for this family shows the Andersons had 18 enslaved people in their household, but the 1 in the last column indicates that the oldest people were only  in the 36-55 age bracket, but one of them was noted as being blind!

1840 – This census continued to enumerated whites and non-white inhabitants, but also collected information about:

  • Deaf, dumb, blind, and insane
  • Name of pensioners for Revolutionary or military services
  • Number of persons employed in each of six classes of industry and one of occupation
  • Number in school
  • Number in family over 20 who cannot read & write

Wow! Revolutionary War pensioners, handicapped, how many in school, employment information and how many over 20 in the family who were illiterate.

In Cumberland County, Kentucky, Joseph Riddle is head of a household with ten members, but there is the second page of data: Five members of this family over 20 couldn’t read or write and, ten columns from the right, there is a 1, which denotes an insane person.

Also in Cumberland County, we find Jesse Gibson’s 1840 household. If you don’t look at the following image, you’ll miss this important information: 95 year old John Gibson, a Revolutionary War pensioner, is living in the home!

1850 – 1880 – These censuses included agricultural and manufacturing schedules. Many people never bother to look at the non-population schedules, as they are called, but may be missing valuable information about their ancestors.

I learned something just by chance. I was looking for Asa Cobb in Franklin County, Alabama, as some of my Williams people were living with him there at least as late as 1847, when they are mentioned in court records. However, I couldn’t find him, or them, in the 1850 census. I looked at the agricultural census and there he was – a wealthy plantation owner. I reread every page of Franklin County and Asa was no where to be found in the population schedule. Then I looked for the neighbors enumerated in the agricultural schedule just before and just after Asa. Yep, they were in the population schedule, right next to each other.

I guess the enumerator was so busy writing down all of the agricultural data related to Asa that he forgot to enumerate the family!

These same 1850-1880 censuses also included mortality schedules listing those who died in the year preceding the official census date. I had a surprise here, too, as I discovered that my 4X great grandfather died in July 1859 in Calais, Maine. I had no record of him living anywhere except in Canada, but he apparently went to live with his son after his wife passed away and died in Maine.

1890 – Yes, most of this census burned, but the Civil War veterans’ schedule survived. Vets or their widows were listed in this special enumeration.

1900 – This census has several unique data groups:

  1. Alaska would not become a state until 1959, but the territorial census included the date of settling in Alaska, occupation, the local post office address and, if not white, the tribe and clan to which one belonged.
  2. The Native American census included names, tribal affiliation, parents’ names, percentage of white blood, whether they paid taxes, year they became a citizen, whether land allotment was the means of acquiring that citizenship and if married, whether they had more than one wife!

3. Hawaii – Inhabitants were asked for year of immigration and how many years they resided there.

4. Military and Navy Census – Servicemen were asked where they were stationed or on what vessel they were stationed, which branch of the service they were in, along with company, regiment or troop, their rank and where their home was in the United States.

The military and navy census also includes the following information about servicemen:

  • Name of military, naval station, or vessel
  • Company or troop, regiment, and arm of service
  • Rank grade or class
  • Residence in the United States

This census also asked everyone for their year of immigration if not a citizen and also asked wives for the number of children to whom they had given birth and how many of those children were still living.

1910 – In the columns on the right, citizens are asked about home ownership, if they are a survivor of the Union Army or Navy or Confederate Army or Navy, and whether a person is blind in both eyes or deaf/dumb.

1920 – The 1920 census data categories were not very different than those in the previous census. However, in the Occupation category, workers were asked if they received a salary, were paid by wage or if they were paid on own account (self-employed.)

1930 – By the time this census was taken, the U.S. had been involved in several wars. Men were asked not only if they were veterans, but in which war or conflict they served: Sp, Phil, Box, Mex, WW or CW (Spanish-American War, Philippine Insurrection, Boxer Rebellion, Mexican War, World War or Civil War. Look on the far right hand side of the page for this information.

1940 – There were two less-noticed features in this census. First, the person who gave the information to the enumerator is marked with an X:

1940 Census

In this household, wife Betty B. provided the family data.

Second, if you are lucky enough to have relatives who, by chance, ended up on lines 44 and 79, there is a box of supplemental questions asked:

1940 Supplemental Questions

These people were asked parents’ place of birth and native tongue, veterans’ status, if the person had a Social Security number, usual occupation and the industry in which they worked as well as whether salaried, paid by wage and whether in private or public industry.

That sums up the often overlooked details to be found in the U.S. federal censuses from 1790-1940. I have found bits of information that I would never have known any other way. I hope you find new facts about your own ancestors in these records.





2 thoughts on “Have You Mined All the Little Details in Each U.S. Census?”

  1. Hi, Linda.
    Thanks for the help reading the federal census. In the 1790 census for Stoneham, MA, I found eight non-white persons: four in the family of Cato Freeman, and four in households of former slave owners, Bryant, Bucknam, and Hay.
    Finding a non-white person in the household of David Hay, son of Peter Hay, son of Patrick/Peter, the first Hay in Stoneham, seems to confirm what Silas Dean wrote about the freed slave, Daniel Kingstone, choosing to stay with his master, David Hay.

    Fascinating information.
    Ben J.

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